Day 74, Inexpressive Tools

Practice: 3, Lessons: 1.  My day was slightly off-set at the beginning due to even more car problems.  I was going to wait until Friday morning to take my car in, but was starting to smell burning rubber every time I drove it, and the check engine light came on, so I did what I thought was safest.  The shop is waiting on a part before they can do all the work, but hopefully I’ll get it back sometime today.  Yesterday Mike was kind enough to lend me his car so I could get down to Fullerton.

I had a fantastic first lesson with Håkan.  Points emphasized: Practice slow, not to become more aware of finger timing, but to zoom in on the way the air is used.  There should never be any unconscious, not-motivated-by-music usages of the air.

While I was doing that later in the day, I became aware that I was unconsciously using my embouchure expressively.  If the music was soft or in a very non-resistant register, I would loosen my embouchure because I didn’t strictly need the same kind of strength in order to get an acceptable sound.  This is counter-productive.  The embouchure is not an expressive tool- if anything, altering it based on whether I absolutely need it to be strong, only makes my playing less flexible.  Becoming aware of this is definitely a move forward.

Day 73, Changing Gears

Practice: 4, Auditions: 1. After two complete days off (not entirely by choice), being able to practice for four hours today felt like having a shower for the first time in days.  The only transition I’ve had between Aspen and my second year at CSUF was the drive.  Everything else has been like jumping into a cold swimming pool.  This place is a completely different world: different teacher, different friends, different part of the country, different everything.  My practice becomes the most familiar thing to me, with everything around it changing.  I remember the same feeling when I first moved in to my condo in Aspen.  But already in the first day I’ve returned, even though I didn’t have any classes today I’ve had a chance to connect to some of the many wonderful people at this school, and I remember that this is place is also home.  I’m looking forward to all the extra time I’ll be spending there.

Even though my reeds feel like they’re all upside down and backwards, I’m definitely liking the feeling of having lived at 8,000 feet for 8 weeks.  For the next few days I’ll be able to play things with half the amount of air I normally need!  I’m going to promptly start swimming to see how long I can draw out this feeling.

Days 71, 72: Clarinet safety in extreme weather & Golf

It’s been an exciting two days off.  I took a 10 hour drive from Aspen to Las Vegas, generally uneventful except for the detour I took to Zion National Park which was gorgeous.  On the second day of travel, my air conditioning stopped working.  At the time I was about 100 miles south of Vegas, right in the middle of the 107 degree desert.  Mike and I took the car to a shop in Barstow where they told me the awful news: my air compressor is busted.  So, we bought a few bags of ice to put in the trunk, wrapped the clarinets in garbage bags, set them on top of the ice, and hoped for the best.  They seemed to have been ok, though I haven’t had a chance yet to play them.  Of course, I have an audition tomorrow!  For school.  I guess tomorrow everything will become clear.

While my air conditioning was still functional and thus I was able to drive with the windows up, I randomly found a podcast called “Golf Mind Play.”  If you’ve ever read The Inner Game of Tennis, it’s a lot like that except for golf.  The narrator discusses mental aspects of the game of golf in short 4-5 minute installments.  They’re great little nuggets of wisdom.  One for example was “A bad attitude is worse than a bad stroke.”  Too true!  Just replace “stroke” with “note.”  I’ve only listened to three episodes so far but I highly recommend this podcast.

The next few days are going to be a whirlwind of registering for classes, auditioning for ensembles, taking my car into the shop for like the fourth time this month, getting my glasses fixed (been broken for weeks), and oh yeah, practicing!  Strangely I think if I get my practice in and make that my top priority, all these other things will seem much easier.  Assuming my car doesn’t break down. ;-)

Day 70, The end of Aspen

Practice: 1 hour? Dress rehearsal: 2 hours, Concert: 2.5 hours.  Today was the final concert of the Aspen Music Festival.  Practice was scarce in the morning, had to get to the tent early due to a race scheduled in town that would potentially hold up traffic.  Mainly I made the decision not to practice any Bb because the way I play Eb is so different that I didn’t want to mess up my mojo on the same day as a concert in which I was only playing Eb.  And of course the only thing I had left to practice on Eb was Mahler.  It was a uniquely challenging part- almost all of the entrances are solis and occur after several minutes of rest.  Most of them were pianissmo altissimo octaves with one other woodwind.  I enjoyed working on it.

And that’s it for Aspen!  I’ll hit the road tomorrow around 7am, putting me in Las Vegas hopefully around 5pm.  Needless to say I’m taking tomorrow off. :)

Day 69, Life is short

Practice: 3 hours, Rehearsal: 3 hours, Concert: 2.5 hours.  Another double-booked day.  There was time to do the fourth hour, once again, but laziness in the guise of “need to save my concentration for tonight” prevailed.  As tonight was the last West Side Story show, I took many more musical risks than I usually do.  Almost all of them were an improvement on the way the music had been before.  It made me wish that I had taken these kinds of risks earlier on.  Life is short.  Take the risks.  I’ll have that chance tomorrow in the final concert of the 2011 Aspen Music Festival:  Mahler’s 2nd Symphony.  I’ll be on Eb clarinet.

Day 68, Risks

Practice: 3, Rehearsal: 2.  As I’m getting back into the groove of practicing three-four hours outside of rehearsal, I’m recording myself much more.  When something isn’t working, nowadays I’m much more apt to play with extremes.  I’ve mentioned extremes of style but you can do extremes of anything, really.  Sometimes it results in sounding awful, sometimes it pays off big time.  I’ve heard it from a lot of people, usually from friends relaying something their teacher told them, to the effect of “You have to be willing to sound like crap in the practice room.”  If you can’t take big risks when you’re playing only for yourself, when can you take them?  It opens up the door for more spontaneity in rehearsals and concerts if you’re in the habit of taking risks every day.

Day 67

Practice: 3 and change, Rehearsal: 3, Concert: 2.75. I got pretty close to my limit this afternoon during an abortive attempt to get another hour in. Right forearm/wrist was complaining, so I didn’t push it.

Mahler 2nd symphony by day, West Side Story by night. Both are such different experiences. One is a 30+ person pit orchestra in an intimate space, providing accompaniment to song and dialog. The other is a sprawling 150+ person orchestra filled with prestigious faculty and students in a gigantic tent concert hall. The mindset I get into for playing solo lines in each is…different, to say the least! It’s good that they happen at either end of the day, gives me time to change gears. I’m so fortunate to be surrounded by such great music all day long. The show tonight went especially well, and I’m pretty sure I can attribute it to my renewed amount of practicing.